Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of September 11, 2017

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Social Self

(The Fog of Self 5)

People. We need people, not only for our very survival, but also because they make us who we are. For example, we identify with particular subgroups of humanity: by our sex, our family, our race, our religion, our political beliefs and affiliations, by our social status. We play many different roles in life depending on the social context: parent, child, sibling, spouse, boss or subordinate, buyer or seller.

All these identities and roles shape how we see ourselves and what we do. And it gives us a hint about who we really are. If I can be so many different identities, all on the same day, then my true identity must be very malleable, so malleable that perhaps my true identity does not even exist, perhaps the center of me is empty. Maybe I am whatever I need to be, given the social context, whether I am with people, or alone and communicating with people, or rehearsing in my mind what I will say or do with someone. Each situation calls me to adopt an appropriate persona and that is who I am in that context. If we could drop all that for a moment, who would we be? Would we be anyone at all?

We identify with what people think of us and what we believe they think of us, which has been called the scourge of inner considering and makes us hyper aware of any indicators of what they think. We conform our behavior to this inner considering, sometimes in fear of loss of face or status, sometimes in seeking to enhance their view of us and raise our status, and sometimes simply to be noticed at all.

People who know us expect a certain range of behaviors from us, a range that defines our personality. More fundamentally, others treat me as if I exist and that implies that I do exist; it proves my existence. I must be someone. This revolves around our lifelong label: our name. People refer to me by my name. I even think of myself as that name. My name is my identity. But ultimately, even this proves empty: my name and personality exposed as mere surface phenomena within my being.

And then there are the self-righteous opinions that we foist on other people. Our social self uses opinions to define and establish itself. Having strongly held and defended opinions means we have created a strongly held and defended self behind those opinions.

Our social self remains active even when we are alone. We carry on an inner dialogue. We ruminate over what we will say, did say, or should have said to someone. We relish our judgments and comments about other people, our inner gossip. Most of this goes toward building and maintaining this sense of self, our social self, separating and contrasting our self from others.

Our interactions and relationships with people help us realize our humanity. The sheer joy of being with people, the friendship, kindness, love, compassion, and simple courtesy, embody our very best qualities. Our social self is, however, an extra layer on top of our direct experience with people, a layer that causes many difficulties and even aberrations. Seeing through the illusion of our social self, cleanses our heart and mind, enabling us to act more from conscience and less from self-centered, self-involved motivations. In the intuitive clarity of conscience, we can act more appropriately to the moment, the people, and the repercussions.

For this week, please notice your ingrained set of attitudes, patterns, and behaviors that constitute your social self. See how you identify with it. See all that as forming a superficial layer, a kind of illusion covering the depth of your being.


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